This lesson is about love being expressed through healing.
At the Heart of it all Today: Jesus uses his divine power to heal the demon-possessed and the physically ill, extending his ministry to Gentiles and other outsiders.
Memory Verse: Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. — Mark 5:34
Key Term (Unclean): The Bible refers to demons as unclean spirits, Leprosy and other illnesses made them unclean. Yet Jesus did the unthinkable and touched unclean people.
Jesus is remembered as one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, and proof of the durability of his teachings is that we are studying them and seeking to live by them after all these centuries. Miracles were always occasions for more teachings, and some of his most remembered sayings were spoken in the context of these miracles.
My Name is Legion (Mark 5:1-20):
- Along the shore of the Sea of Galilee were areas with limestone caves, many of them used as tombs. People believed that evil spirits resided in isolated places, especially where there were tombs. Those who study demonology have observed that possessed people often have greater strength. No one had been able to subdue or bind this man, yet when he sees Jesus from a distance he immediately fears him. He calls Jesus “Son of the Most High God, a title given by the angel in Luke 1:32.
- The man is a Gentile and Gentiles generally used “Most High God” to refer to the Jewish God. Here, the demon is trying to show some of its own power by showing that it knows who Jesus is. It appears that evil spirits possess insight that humans do not have. These demons realize they are dealing with the Son of God, not some charlatan.
- To know someone’s name is to have some power over him. The demon answers, “Legion,” which may explain the man’s bizarre behavior, running around naked, cutting himself with stones and frightening others. “My name is Legion” may show the split personality often shown by the possessed, who were in some sense themselves but also under control of demonic forces. Legion also conveyed the idea of something armed and dangerous; Jesus is not confronting one demon, but several.
- But another interpretation is possible; Jesus only refers to one evil spirit (Mark 5:8). The demon may in fact have revealed that his name was ligyona, the Aramaic word for soldier. His actual reply to Jesus might have been something like, “My name is Soldier, and there are many of us,” meaning several servants of Satan.
- In Luke’s version of this story, the demons begged Jesus repeatedly “not to enter the Abyss” (Luke 8:31).
- “The Abyss” could refer to the place of the dead or the final destination of Satan and the demons. They know they will end up there eventually, but in the meantime they ask for some other fate, even if it is being sent into a herd of pigs. These demons may fear they will be the “first wave” of demons that get sent into the abyss.
- This also may be behind what the demon-possessed man says to Jesus in Matthew’s version of the story: “‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted, ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time (Matthew 8:29).
- The question of how moral it was for Jesus to “send” the demons into the poor pigs is moot, since he only allowed the demons to do as they wished. The real purpose of sending the demons into the pigs was to give the sick man a definite sign that the demons were no longer inside him.
- One human being was worth more than a herd of swine. To the people in the story, the crime was the economic loss, not the feelings of the pigs. This is another case of misplaced priorities. They would have preferred that the demoniac stay as he had been, so long as their livestock were not bothered. This does not show these Greeks in a very favorable light. Jesus was extending his ministry to the Gentiles, which was commendable, and this demoniac was the first Gentile convert.
- The locals begged Jesus to leave their region. Perhaps they feared Jesus would use his power to do even more frightening things. It is interesting to contrast the behavior of these Gentiles with the faith of the Gentile centurion in Luke 7:1-10. Some Gentiles responded positively to Jesus, others did not.
- The man is now “clothed and in his right mind.” The Greek word used means “in his senses.” The reaction of the locals to seeing this is fear. They had apparently grown accustomed to his bizarre behavior, but when they see him changed they are fearful.
- The man wants to be with Jesus, but he tells him to go and tell his friends of the power and mercy of God. The man becomes the first missionary throughout the Gentile region of the Decapolis.
- Jesus tells the man to return to his home and tell people what “the Lord” has done for him. Jesus is not just some wandering healer but the Lord, something these pagans understood even if Jesus’ own people did not.
- Jesus was in a situation that, by Jewish standards, was horribly unclean. They were among Gentiles, there were pigs and tombs nearby, and they encountered a raving, naked man possessed by unclean spirits. No respectable Pharisee or scribe would have set foot in such a place, or have anything to do with this guy. Jesus was willing to get down and dirty with people. He was truly Immanuel, “God with us,” and not just God with us in a tidy residential neighborhood, but in the unclean world where people suffer greatly and long for compassion.
Who Touched Me? (Mark 5:24-34):
- Since medicine in ancient times was mostly a matter of guesswork and luck, people had varying opinions of doctors—they saw them all as quacks and charlatans, or as being sent from the gods.
- Here is a situation that would make almost any reader uncomfortable: a woman with an embarrassing and long-term ailment wishes to be healed, but the healer is surrounded by a crowd. Her flow of blood was even more embarrassing among the Jews because it made her ritually unclean, according to Leviticus 15:25. For twelve years this “untouchable” woman was living among the Jews.
- Mark says the woman touched Jesus’ robe (Mark 5:28-29). Matthew and Luke refer to the hem, fringe or tassels of the cloak. The tassel was one of the most recognizable signs that a man was a Jew. They were mandated in Numbers 15:38-39: “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing and attach them with a blue cord. When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do.”
- How did Jesus realize that “power had gone out of him?” Not sure, but in some sense healing required power and effort on Jesus’ part. We can’t comprehend that it “took something out of him” and the disciples did not grasp it either, as seen by their response when he asked “Who touched me?” This was one of countless cases of the disciples not understanding Jesus, and it never occurred to them that Jesus’ miracles somehow drained him.
- The woman is “trembling with fear” when she comes forward, perhaps expecting a reprimand. Instead, Jesus refers affectionately to her as daughter.
- Jesus would be unclean just by touching her but He doesn’t mention it. He understands the nature of this woman’s problem and does not seek to embarrass her in front of a crowd.
- Mark reminds us that Jesus was surrounded by a crowd. He seems to have sensed not the touch, but the unseen faith of the woman. The woman herself sensed that she was free of her twelve-year-long bleeding.
Touching a Leper (Mark 1:40-44):
- The term “leprosy” referred to a broad category of skin ailments, not just actual leprosy. Some situations could have been like psoriasis or ringworm—minor for us, though harder to cure in ancient times. It is clear that the lepers Jesus healed had the more severe forms, not just minor skin diseases. The cleansing rituals in Leviticus 14:2-3 (actually verses 1-32) must mean minor skin ailments, since true leprosy was never cured.
- People with actual leprosy—called Hansen disease—typically lost fingers and toes over time, then eventually an entire hand or foot. This kind of leprosy, which began with a loss of sensation in parts of the body, took a long time to progress with the person literally dying by inches.
- Pitiful as lepers were, we do not see much evidence of compassion for them. The way the disease disfigured their faces and bodies made them repugnant to others. Some of the rabbis obsessed with keeping their distance from anything unclean, but Jesus was “filled with compassion.”
- Mark’s telling of this incident is startling since a leper was not supposed to walk up and speak to anyone. He was supposed to shout out “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45) so people would know to keep their distance. This leper was bold by approaching Jesus with his request. Jesus gave him confidence that He could accomplish what no one else could. The fact that he knelt shows he sensed an authority in Jesus, perhaps even sensed his divinity.
- Jesus touched the leper—No sin or affliction puts us beyond the touch of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke report this miracle very early in their Gospels, a sign that Jesus had the power to heal the most horrible physical affliction of all.
- After the healing, Jesus tells the man to go show himself to the priests, as Leviticus 13:3, 9 demanded. Once the man was pronounced cured, he would make an offering to God (Leviticus 14). The leper did not do as Jesus told him: “Instead he went out and began to talk, freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer from everywhere” (Mark 1:45)
- Part of Jesus’ ministry was to try to change their wrong conception of Messiah. This is why he asks the people whom he helps to tell no one. In contrast to the many false Messiahs that sprang up over the centuries, Jesus does not call himself Messiah publicly—nor did he encourage anyone else to call him by the title.
Such Great Faith (Luke 7:1-10):
- Most Gentiles detested and mocked the Jews, but some admired the faith and morality of the Jews.The Jews distinguished between Gentiles who were “God-fearers” (those who attended synagogue services and showed some interest in the Jewish way of life) and the more committed “proselytes” (who were circumcised and baptized, plus offered sacrifices). The person had to undress and be baptized, by full immersion, in the presence of three Jewish witnesses. At this point he would have been considered spiritually clean and in God’s eyes equal to the Jews. The centurion in this story, would have been a God-fearer since a proselyte would have been able to have a Jew under his roof. Technically, a God-fearer was still unclean in Jewish eyes.
- Aside from being a Gentile, the centurion was in the service of Rome, reason enough for many Jews to despise him, but many of the Jews of Capernaum were very fond of this particular Gentile. Certainly his contribution to the building of a synagogue impressed them. Roman soldiers were often stationed far from home, and some of them mixed well with the locals, marrying and developing friendships.
- This centurion had no doubt that Jesus could heal the servant. He knew that according to Jewish practice, a devout Jew like Jesus could not enter his house. The fact that he saw himself as not “fit” to receive Jesus in fact made him precisely fit. Feeling his own unworthiness made him worthy.
- In Matthew’s version of this story Jesus says to the centurion, “I will come and heal him” which was eye brow raising to the Jews. Jesus had already proved (by touching a leper) that the distinction between clean and unclean meant nothing to him.
- In the Roman armies, a century was a military unit of a hundred men, with sixty centuries making up a legion. A centurion commanded a century.
Eating the Children’s Crumbs (Mark 7:24-30):
- It is no accident that Mark and Matthew place this story immediately after the controversy with the Pharisees about what is “clean” and “unclean.” Jesus leaves Galilee with its Pharisees and their foolish regulations and enters Gentile territory, the region of Tyre and Sidon, called Phoenicia. For a short time, Jesus is distancing himself and the disciples from the critics and the crowds.
- Matthew mentions her ethnic origin perhaps to remind the readers that this woman was a descendant of the people whom the Jews thought of as the worst sort of pagans. It is ironic that the woman addresses Jesus as “Son of David,” a title for the Jewish Messiah, while just before this the Pharisees were rejecting him and his teachings. Jesus makes it clear here and elsewhere that his mission is to save the people of Israel, yet at various points He encounters Gentiles who have more faith than the Jews. As with the centurion whose servant he healed, Jesus here does not turn down the heartfelt request of a Gentile.
- Was Jesus aware that He himself had Canaanite blood? In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, one of the ancestors listed is Rahab, the harlot of Jericho at the time of Canaan’s conquest by the Israelites (Joshua 2). Matthew included Rahab in the genealogy, and included another Gentile, the Moabite woman Ruth. Matthew doesn’t miss a chance to spotlight Gentiles who put their faith in God.
- Jesus says to the woman, “First let the children eat all they want.” “First” is important because he is not telling the woman that only the children (the Jews) will be fed, only that the children come first. Since she is a mother asking for the healing of her own child, she understands priorities.
- Jews did often refer to Gentiles as dogs; and a dog was a familiar term of contempt for a shameless woman. But the word used by Jesus in this story means “little dogs” or “house dogs,” something at least more appealing than the street mongrels, which were despised.
- In these days before silverware, eating was with the hands, and people often wiped their fingers on scraps of bread and tossed them to the house dogs. The Jews were throwing away the spiritual food Jesus offered them.
- The woman was willing to admit herself to be a “dog,” one who would eat table scraps. Granting her request could only have heightened her joy when he told her the child was healed. As in the case of some other healings, the child is made well without Jesus having to be personally present.
- The chief moral aspect of the woman is that she lifts herself up by humbling herself. Admitting herself to be a “dog” who will be content with the crumbs that fall from the table, her faith makes her worthy of sitting at the table. Her behavior illustrates one of Jesus’ own sayings: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). The woman wanted a miracle not for herself but for her child.
- This is one of numerous times that Jesus responded to the plea of a distraught parent. Jesus had not entered Gentile territory to preach or minister to the Gentiles, but He could not avoid doing good. Even among the descendants of the despised Canaanites, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 49:22: “1 will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples.”